I got checked out by 9:15 and delivered my excess clothing to my Saturday night hotel so I don’t have to carry everything with me today. On the way out of town I stopped to see the tapestries at Notre Dame de Nantilly.
Shortly thereafter the adventure began. How does Shakespeare put it: “over hill, over dale”? Well, let me tell you, this part of the countryside is NOT FLAT. Oh my God. And for maybe about 15 minutes out of 5 hours was I riding on anything that vaguely resembled a bike route. Yikes. Not that I mind the little teeny roads that run from village to village — they are more than charming. But the middle sized country roads have plenty of cars and big trucks zipping by. And the 15 minutes or so I spent riding on a prominent road was anything but a lovely ride in the country. It’s at these times that I ask myself: “am I having fun yet!”
It’s all no one’s fault but my own, as I didn’t really believe the tourist map that indicated which sights WEREN’T accessible by bike. My first goal of the day was to visit the big rose gardens at Doué-la-Fontaine. Well, its location wasn’t very clearly indicated in the tourist map and what I realized when I got somewhere near was that it was located on a major road (lots of car and truck traffic, no shoulder) so I decided that I could visit roses some other time. I had a tasty salad for lunch in the town and just as I got on the road again the skies turned very dark and the wind started to blow even harder. (One of the charms of the morning had been riding up the hills into a head wind.)
The next supposed stop on my itinerary was the Chateau de Montreuil-Bellay. The shortest route was 10Km on a major road (see above). I braved it out for the first 5K and then it got on my nerves and I turned off on a really little road and decided to skip that chateau. By the time I was near my final anticipated stop, Brézé, it was after 3pm and I knew I had another 14Km to ride and I just wanted to reach my final destination.
Good that I didn’t stop because what came next was a real test and I’m glad to have gotten it out of the way sooner rather than later. I saw the sign for “Fontevraud 10Km” and was delighted. My delight abated at the sight of the sign “This is a military war games area; don’t leave the road as there’s a danger of unexploded ammunition”. Not that I was planning to leave the road, but still… And then there was the road itself. No shoulder and one long steep hill after the other. I did a lot of pushing. Never was I so glad to get to the top of a hill and see a town a short distance away! I rode into the center of Fontevraud and decided against stopping for coffee—I just really wanted to get to the hotel.
And here I am, after one last stretch on a main road, in this blissful setting. The hotel is a privately- owned manor farm that also has a soap-making business on the grounds. The rooms are homey and full of antiques and as I sit at my little desk with the window open I can hear doves cooing and a donkey braying in the distance. Dinner starts in half an hour and is supposed to feature produce from their own farm garden. Speaking of fresh, when I pulled in on my bike, two men were carrying a wheelbarrow full of freshly slaughtered pigs into the barn. Now city folks may be grossed out, but as a farm girl I thought it was great.
So, instead of riding the anticipated 45-50Km today, I rode over 70. Mixed in with the hideous hills busy roads and military shooting zones were acres of beautiful sunflower fields, grazing cows and oodles of cute villages built in the local white stone. The terrain was WAY hillier than I’d imagined. The saving grace was that at least the temperature was mild. If it’s been hot, I’d have been done for. As it is, I’m pleasantly tired but not exhausted.
My, oh my, that was good. Not haute cuisine but very tasty. Aperitif of Kir Royal (Crémant de Loire with Cassis Syrup) followed by a first course of lightly steamed zucchini & summer squash in a delicious cream sauce. The main course, accompanied by a glass of red wine from the region, was lapin (rabbit) in a lemon sauce with steamed potatoes. It was very good but the chef gets a couple of minus points because the sauce had a little too much cornstarch in it and the lapin was just a touch on the dry side. This was followed by a simple salad of a few leaves of very fresh lettuce in a simple vinaigrette topped by two lovely pieces of cheese. Dessert was vanilla and strawberry ice cream (homemade I presume). To aid my digestion, I drank a glass of cognac.
What a day!